If you’ve ever driven while tired, you know how scary it can be.
For most people, arriving safely can involve bringing a friend along for the drive so that they have someone to talk to, or driving extra carefully until they reach their final destination. Once they arrive, they settle in for a restful sleep.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea, you don’t have the luxury of a restful sleep.
The disorder causes you to stop breathing for as long as 30 seconds at a time. When your body realizes what is happening, you wake up gasping for air. This can happen as often as 400 times a night. Perhaps even more surprising is that you don’t wake up each time it happens. If no one is around to hear you snoring and gasping, you may not know you have a problem.
This unexplained restless sleep is not only bad for your health, but it can make you a danger to others on the road.
How is untreated sleep apnea dangerous to other people?
People with undiagnosed sleep disorders are at serious risk of falling asleep while driving, especially when they’re on monotonous terrain like highways. Surveys have shown that 20% of Canadians have fallen asleep while driving. In Quebec, 1 in 5 fatal accidents are caused by falling asleep at the wheel.
If you’re still unsure of how dangerous it can be, take into consideration that sleep deprivation is similar to driving under the influence. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety did some research and found that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk similar to that of a drunk driver.
What are the health effects of sleep apnea?
As if driving while exhausted doesn’t pose enough of a threat, there are serious health concerns associated with sleep apnea.
People with more severe cases are at greater risk of high blood pressure because of the sudden drops in oxygen levels. It can also increase the risk of having a stroke, and for patients with underlying heart disease, sudden death.
Other serious complications include congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation and other vascular problems. As if those weren’t bad enough, sleep apnea can increase complications of surgery, and lead to memory problems, headaches, mood swings, and depression.
An interesting development in sleep apnea research is the idea that being overweight increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea is actually a two-way street. New information suggests that too little restful sleep may be as much of a contributor to obesity as too much food and too little exercise.
How can I treat sleep apnea?
If you have sleep apnea, the throat muscles that keep your airway open when you’re awake relax too much when you sleep. This causes your airway to become partially or fully blocked. It is this blockage that causes the loud snoring, gasping, and the dangerous drop in blood oxygen levels.
In order to treat it, you will need something that keeps your airway open, like a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. These machines have a mask that fits over your nose and mouth, forcing air into your throat to help keep it open.
When this therapy works, it can make a life-changing difference. Unfortunately, many people shy away from it due to the uncomfortable side effects, including:
- Dry mouth
- Runny nose
- Stomach bloating
An alternative to the CPAP machine is a thin comfortable mouthpiece called a Mandibular Advancement Device. This FDA approved appliance gently repositions your lower jaw to help keep your throat open, allowing you to breathe comfortably.
It is similar in shape to a retainer and it works without tubes, masks, or noise, making them easy to tolerate. Patients who have used them say that they love how much better they feel after finally getting a good night’s sleep.
Where can I get one of these devices?
If you want to take control of your health and live a normal (and safe) life, contact Dr. Andrea Stevens. She and her talented team will do their best to help you start breathing better and feeling better.